Monthly Archives: November 2019

Interview: People watching with folk singer-song-writer Tony Burt

Performing since the 1960s in folk rock, traditional Irish and covers bands as well solo performances as a folk singer, in recent years Tony Burt has shifted his focus to writing and performing his own songs. Earlier this year his album People Watching was released to favourable reviews. I caught up with Tony recently to discuss the album, his passion for music and his thoughts on the contemporary folk scene.

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After decades in the folk/folk-rock scene performing traditional material and covers reinventing yourself as singer-songwriter came relatively late in life. Was there any particular catalyst for that switch?

I moved in 2005 from the Birmingham area to Bromyard in Herefordshire. I’d spent many enjoyable years trekking around the country with Irish folk band, Dempsey’s Lot, mainly as an instrumentalist. Moving to Bromyard added an hour’s travel each way to most gigs. So I left the band and took the chance to spend less ‘music miles’ whilst focusing on more contemporary songs whilst doing more singing.

For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe People Watching and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?

The title track ‘People Watching’ is key to many of the songs. It was written in the Kings Arms in Cleobury Mortimer, near Ludlow 2 years ago over a couple of sessions. I enjoy observing strangers and inventing imaginary lives for them. ‘Monica Is Taller Than Me’ was based on respectful and relatively lust-free admiration of an elegant waitress in a Scottish Borders hotel. ‘The Village’ pays homage to the ethnic Chinese guerrillas who fought behind Japanese lines in Malaya in World Word II. ‘JJ’s Bar’ celebrates a rock music club in Karnak, Egypt, which has to be one of the quirkiest venues on the planet. Other songs can be more cryptic and emotional but observation of human traits usually plays a part.

I wanted to stay clear, just this once, of an excess of guitar, bass and fiddle so we use less common instruments like harmonium, dulcetone, mellotron and marxophone. Most of the tunes are modal in structure but the overall sound in not entirely folky. I think we evolved a sound that was a bit rootsy and almost Prog in some ways. Boo and Chris added really interesting seasoning on many of the tracks.

How have you found the reaction to the album? You’ve had some nice reviews. I’m very taken with it. It felt like I was stumbling across a long lost classic that had completely escaped my attention until now.

I have been really happy with the reviews and radio plays I’ve received. Some have provided really helpful constructive criticism which I am genuinely taking on board. I love your “long lost classic” comment and I can’t think of anything more encouraging. Thank you!

Irish music has always been important to you although you were born and brought up in Birmingham. Do you feel that’s been an influence on your songwriting now?

The Birmingham district of Balsall Heath, where I grew up in the 50s was in those days predominantly an Irish area. So as I grew up I became very familiar with Irish tunes and songs. At 15 I met my lifelong friend, Tommy Dempsey who had soon dragged me in every cobwebbed den of folk iniquity in the Midlands. He is still going strong at 82 and has the quintessential Irish voice. Many of my melodies have a Celtic structure and Tommy’s singing influenced my timing and phrasing.

Tell us a bit more about the two musicians you work with on the album? Have you been long-time collaborators?

Boo Hewerdine has been a well known producer, singer, guitarist and songwriter for 30 years. Known for his work with The Bible, Eddi Reader, Kris Drever, Brooks Williams and many others. Chris Pepper is owner of Saltwell Studios near Huntingdon. His reputation is growing as a result of his well equipped facility, high skill level and great attitude.

I’ve spent 4 or 5 weeks with Boo over the past 5 years at songwriting workshops. Other collaborators, in addition to Boo, have included Christine Collister, Steve Tilston, Karine Polwart, Edwina Hayes and Darden Smith. It’s fantastic how these talented artists share their knowledge and experience so readily. When I decided to make People Watching I could think of no one better than Boo and Chris to help me. The artistic results were great and we had a really good time too!

Who are your all-time favourite artists?

OMG – what a question!

My earliest influence was, almost inevitably, Bob Dylan. At the same time, the Beatles and the Kinks; John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim. Early songwriters: Richard Thompson, Al Stewart, Bruce Cockburn, Sandy Denny. Out of several dozen more – Elvis Costello, Dick Gaughan, Gerry Rafferty, Ralph McTell.

Are you encouraged by the number of excellent young folk artists out there these days after some comparatively lean decades in the past? And have you any particular favourites?

There is some wonderful new young talent emerging and it seems many are being groomed for sustainable folk music careers with coaching on financial and marketing skills. I know some excellent artists of my generation have lived hand-to-mouth for decades and I hope these youngsters can have a more comfortable life. Granny’s Attic are the young band I know best and admire hugely. I’ve known them since they were about 12! Some of the photos and Videos stashed away could be worth a fortune when their success is complete. Especially Cohen at 13 in his school uniform with a short back and sides performing “The Ship (off the new album) on fiddle. Sorry buddy!

People Watching was released in January 2019 and is available via Tony’s website

https://tonyburt.co.uk/

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Folk: album review – TMSA ‘Young Trad Tour 2018’

A simple, slightly quirky but effective idea, every year the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland (TMSA) run the Young Trad Tour project where they offer young musicians the opportunity to record an album with their contemporaries and tour their home towns. TMSA launched the project back in 2004 when the six finalists from BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician Of The Year awards were brought together to tour and make an album and its been repeated each year since.

This year’s CD features the six finalists of the 2018 competition along with the winner of the 2017 competition and the full lone-up is as follows: Hannah Rarity (vocals and 2018 winner), Charlie Stewart (fiddle and 2017 winner), Ali Levack (whistles/pipes), Rory Matheson (piano), Luc MacNally (guitar/vocals), Amy Papiransky (vocals) and David Shedden (bagpipes).

The album contains a nice mix of original material and arrangements of traditional tunes. There’s a real maturity to both the playing and the writing but one of the undoubted highlights of the album is the wonderful voice of 2018 competition winner Hannah Rarity. Rarity’s talent had already come to my notice when I reviewed her debut release for the sadly now-defunct fRoots magazine back in 2017. It’s certainly encouraging to see her getting the recognition she deserves, not that the CD is merely a showcase for the winner. There’s some fine fiddle playing and bagpipes on this album and it is impressive to see this ad-hoc ensemble coming together with something as cohesive as this.

A wonderfully creative project and one that has delivered a fine album.

Released: 6th August 2019 by TMSA

https://www.tmsa.scot/

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Related review:

EP review – Hannah Rarity – Beginings

Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 21/11/19

Twenty-odd musicians passing through the ranks over the years, twenty-odd studio albums, a top five hit and countless songs depicting the cruel, the gruesome and the other-worldly, the folk rock institution that is Steeleye Span is fifty years old this year. This tour is being billed as a celebration of that and the band’s new album Est’d 1969 emphasises the point further.

The focus tonight, however, is not on self-reverential backslapping but firmly on the songs. As lead singer and founder member, Maddy Prior, said when I interviewed her for the Hastings Online Times recently it is the material that has been at the heart of the band’s success. And what a choice of songs we get tonight: from those like ‘The Blacksmith’ that appeared on the band’s very first album to several (like ‘January Man’ and Mackerel of the Sea’) that appear on their latest. There’s plenty of familiar material, like the wondrous ‘Alison Gross’, from the band’s 1970s commercial heyday, but one of the really nice things about a Steeleye Span gig is they never let the set-list become over-familiar. They mix it up from tour to tour, retrieving old songs from their back catalogue, giving others a rest and introducing the audience to new material. Indeed, the set-list tonight is quite different from the last time they performed at St. Mary in the Castle back in 2017.

The line-up of this constantly-evolving band is pretty much the same as the last time they performed here for us, save for Violeta Barrena filling in on violin for Jessie May Smart who is taking time out from the band on maternity leave. On stage the seven musicians really work well together. The ‘electric’ trio of Roger Carey on bass and Julian Littman and Spud Sinclair on guitars provide some real oomph as the band rock out on some of their harder-edged arrangements and provide a lovely contrast to the elegant beauty of Barrena’s fiddle playing and Benji Kirkpatrick’s mandolin. Long-standing Steeleye Span member and local Hastings musician, Liam Genockey, holds it all together on the drum-kit and all of the band members provide some lovely vocals on the choruses alongside Prior.

Of course, there is one song that never leaves the set. “You know what’s coming next,” says Prior when the band come back on for an encore and they launch into a thunderously energetic and suitably celebratory rendition of their 1975 Top 5 hit ‘All Around My Hat’. Rather than delving into yet another familiar old favourite the band finish the night with ‘Dodgy Bastards’, the title song from their excellent 2016 album and we are all able to leave thanking Steeleye Span for fifty years of incredible music.

Set-list:

First half:

Thomas the Rhymer
One Misty Moisty Morning
The Elf-Knight
Alison Gross
The Blacksmith
The Boy and the Mantle (Three Tests of Chastity)
Roadways
Mackerel of the Sea
Seventeen Come Sunday

Second half:

Tam Lin
King Henry
Black Jack Davy
January Man
Wintersmith
Old Matron
Domestic
All Around My Hat
Dodgy Bastards

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http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

Related posts:

Interview with Maddy Prior

Interview with Julian Littman

Review: Steeleye Span at Ashford 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2017

News: “Thirty years and a lot of hard work” – back catalogue of Heavy Pettin’ released on 29th November

Scottish hard rock band Heavy Pettin‘ see their 1983 debut and two subsequent releases being reissued on CD on 29th November.

Named after UFO’s 1976 studio album the band was formed in Glasgow in 1981 when guitarist Gordon Bonnar, drummer Gary Moat, bassist Brian Waugh, vocalist Steve ‘Hamie’ Hayman and lead guitarist Punky Mendoza joined forces. They gigged extensively before releasing their debut single, ‘Roll the Dice’ in 1982 on Neat Records. The single caught the attention of record bosses at Polydor and the band soon found themselves with a major label deal and Queen guitarist, Brian May as co-producer. Their debut album Lettin Loose was released in 1983 to very favourable reviews.

Hard rocking but more polished than most of their contemporaries on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene, with their punchy choruses and harmony vocals Heavy Pettin’ took some of their cues from the previous decade’s glam and classic rock era. Touted as a possible next-big-thing after the mega success of Def Leppard two more albums followed: Rock Ain’t Dead in 1985 and The Big Bang in 1989. In the latter part of the 80s, however, things never really quite worked out for Heavy Pettin’ and the band had already spilt by the time their final album was released in 1989.

Heavy Pettin’ (now featuring two original members Gordon Bonnar and Hamie) reformed in 2017 and a brand new album is planned for 2020. Original Heavy Pettin drummer, Gary Moat, meanwhile, now fronts Burnt Out Wreck who released their second album last month.

Reflecting on the Heavy Pettin’ re-releases Gary Moat tells me:

“It’s taken 30 years and a lot of hard work from my management and wife to finally have the three Heavy Pettin albums back in safe hands. This time through Burntout Wreckords the royalties will make it back to Universal & Heavy Pettin!”

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This official licensed re-release of Lettin Loose includes newly written liner notes by Ross Muir and two rare bonus tracks: ‘Roll The Dice’ and ‘Shadows Of The Night’

Lettin Loose, Rock Ain’t Dead and The Big Bang are all released on CD on 29th November by Burnt Out Wreckords via Cherry Red Records.

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Related post:

Burnt Out Wreck – interview with Gary Moat

 

Live review: Glenn Hughes performs classic Deep Purple live, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 16/11/19

“Ian Paice, Roger Glover and Ian Gillan don’t do these songs” former Deep Purple bass player/vocalist, Glenn Hughes, tells the Bexhill audience, as he explains his decision to put together a tour celebrating the legacy of MK 3/MK 4 era Deep Purple at the urging of many promoters.

Having caught Hughes on one of his more regular tours a few years ago I knew we were in for an absolute treat. The few Deep Purple classics he threw into the set-list when I saw him back then completely set the audience alight and he proved, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he still had the vocal ability to hit those high notes and deliver those songs in a way they deserve to be heard. When the Bexhill date was announced I therefore jumped at the chance to see Hughes perform an entire set of Purple material.

As well as still being in very fine voice and being an absolute legend on the bass Hughes has also got himself a very good band together indeed, particularly guitarist, Soren Anderson, who handles the material amazingly well – from the classic Ritchie Blackmore riffs in the MK 3 material to the more funked up jazzy feel of the MK 4 material.

Material from the MK 3 line-up features more prominently in the set and we get some wonderful versions of classics like ‘Stormbringer’ and ‘Might Just Take Your Life’. However, MK4 Purple and , isn’t overlooked entirely. ‘You Keep On Moving’ and ‘Gettin’ Tighter’ from Come Taste The Band, Hughes’ final album with the band, both get an airing. Introducing the latter, a song he co-wrote with the late Tommy Bolin, Hughes tells us he’s played it at every gig he’s performed since 1976 in tribute to his former colleague who died that same year. The Bolin tribute is followed by a raw, emotive and absolutely majestic version of ‘Mistreated’ one of the truly classic Purple songs from any era of the band.

And while the modern-day Gillan-fronted version of Deep Purple may no longer play any of the material that Hughes originally performed on, Hughes and his bandmates are not quite so churlish. They give us a magnificently rocking version of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and, after encoring with a stunning ‘Burn’, they close with a thrilling version of MK 2’s ‘Highway Star’ – Hughes hitting all the high notes in a way Ian Gillan could now only dream of. Back in the day Bolin performed both of these songs live during his three-year stint with Deep Purple, of course, so it seems only right to include them now.

I grew up with most of the songs played tonight, from albums that were frequently pumping out of my dad’s stereo as a kid. Never having seen Hughes and Coverdale with Deep Purple first time around, however, (they split when I was aged 10 – a good five years before I started going to gigs!) I am very grateful to Glenn Hughes for giving these songs a new lease of life and providing me and many others a chance to hear them performed on stage once more. Glenn Hughes has done the Purple legacy proud with this tour.

Set-list
Stormbringer
Might Just Take Your Life
You Keep On Moving
Sail Away
You Fool No One / High Ball Shooter
Gettin’ Tighter
Mistreated
Smoke on the Water / Georgia on My Mind
Burn
Highway Star

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http://www.glennhughes.com/

Related reviews:

Glenn Hughes, London 2015

Deep Purple, London 2015

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Birmingham 2017

Whitesnake – The Purple Album

Interview with Maddy Prior ahead of Steeleye Span’s 50th anniversary tour

This article was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Steeleye Span are celebrating 50 years with an anniversary tour. Ahead of their gig at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November, Darren Johnson talks to founder member Maddy Prior.

DJ: You start your winter tour very soon. What can we expect from this fiftieth anniversary tour?

MP: Well we started in the Spring – this is the second part of it. We do some songs from our new album which is called Established 1969 and some classic pieces which are part of our catalogue if you like, so it’s a sort of a mixture. We always do a mixture actually.

One of the things that I like about Steeleye Span is that you vary your set-list from tour to tour. There are old favourites in there but they tend to be a different set of old favourites each time.

We try to keep it varied. If you sing a song for a long time you want to leave it to ‘green up’ as it were. You leave it fallow for a year or two so it sort of greens up again and you have a fresh look at it. And quite often we do slight readjustments of the arrangements and things like that. Sometimes we completely re-arrange them.

You’re at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November. Steeleye Span has had quite a connection with Hastings over the years, hasn’t it?

Yes we do. There’s Liam (Genockey) our drummer – he’s been here forever. And also now there’s Roger Carey in the band as the bass player – so there’s quite a strong connection. And we’re rehearsing here at the moment in Hastings. And also, of course, Peter (Knight) was here for a long time as well. So, as you say, we’ve got strong connections here and we always come here regularly over the years. It’s strong on our map!

For the benefit of our readers who might not have kept up with who’s in the band these days, can you quickly talk us through who’s playing in Steeleye Span these days?

Well, we’ve got some new blood as it were. Violeta Barrena is on fiddle for this tour. She shares the fiddle slot with Jesse May Smart, but Jesse’s just had a baby so she’s taken a back seat for this tour. They’re both brilliant players and they’re both really good improvisers. We’ve got Roger Carey on the bass, Spud Sinclair on guitar and Liam Genockey on the drums. Julian Littman on guitar and Benji Kirkpatrick on various things – guitar, sitar, mandolin. Julian plays keyboards as well, so there’s quite a lot of variety instrumentally. I think that’s everybody – now we are seven!

Can you see Steeleye Span carrying on without you at some point in the future, or would that be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger?

I don’t know. I’ve no idea. But I think Steeleye is mainly about the material. A lot of which came in with Bob Johnson. Peter Knight brought quite a lot in. Rick Kemp brought quite a lot in. This new band – we’ve done another album of traditional material very largely – which we play around with. We write new tunes and get tunes from all sorts of places. But it’s the material that I think is the point of the exercise really.

So that suggests that there could be some form of Steeleye Span continuing without Maddy Prior?

Are you trying to bump me off?? No, it is something that’s talked about. If you think about it as a small family firm that could go on forever. Just getting to know how the material works is the issue if you like, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t.

Have there been times when being Maddy Prior folk rock icon has got in the way of other musical projects you wanted to pursue or are you happy it’s never stopped you doing anything else you wanted to do?

I don’t think it’s stopped me doing anything I wanted to do. It’s usually helpful on the whole. There’s nothing I’ve missed out on. We were on Top Of The Pops. That was the biggest thing of the day. And we’ve done a lot of tours of big venues and we’ve worked with material that I dearly love.

There aren’t many people on the folk circuit who’ve done Top Of The Pops. Was that a bit of a culture shock?

We had done a lot of work by then. Sell-out tours and so on – it wasn’t out of nowhere. We were well-known by the time we had those songs and we were on the same week as Noddy Holder and Slade, so that was quite interesting.

When you look around at younger bands – and a number say they’ve been influenced by Steeleye Span – do you feel optimistic about the future of the UK folk scene?

Absolutely. There’s so many brilliant young players. They’ve got their chops together fantastically well and they’re interested in the music and there’s a big movement, so it will be interesting to see what happens and where it goes. But the music comes in and out of fashion and we have revivals every so often, but it never quite goes away. Folk music became extremely unfashionable but that’s all it is – fashion. I’ve been literally right outside of the curve and then it comes back to the middle a bit. It’s part of our heritage and it comes knocking on the door every so often.

Ahead of the tour and particularly ahead of the gig in Hastings, is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?

The band is really, really good at the moment. I had a look at us on Wikipedia and it was brilliant because every so often it said “They came back to form” and I thought that was a hell of a good way of putting it. Because over fifty years you’re not going to be perfect all the way through and it’s been like that. But we’ve been very largely led by the songs so if the songs are good we’ve tended to be better. But we found with different people coming in, they bring different energies and different musical styles and that’s what we’ve been like in Steeleye – things change!

Steeleye Span 50th Anniversary Tour Thursday 21 November, 7.30m. St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF. Tickets £26.95 including booking fee available from 01323 841414 and online.

Related posts:

Interview with Julian Littman

Review: Steeleye Span at Ashford 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2017